AYCE Nights: My Favorite All-You-Can-Eat Hot Pot Spots in Honolulu
These family-friendly shabu-shabu spots were made for big groups that eat a lot.
AYCE Nights brings together my favorite spots to eat when my friends and I crave a load of food on the cheap. All-you-can-eat places always come up, and lucky for us, there are many options in Honolulu.
I grew up eating shabu-shabu with my family every time my grandparents visited. It’s a deliciously filling meal and can satisfy a lot of people. After moving to Mānoa for school, I was shocked at how common hot pot was in Honolulu. But most places offer preset meals or charge by the number and type of ingredients you choose, so hot pot can get pricey. Luckily, my friends and I have found a few all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurants in Honolulu and we have a couple of favorites.
Shabuya is a classic when we think of hot pot. Priced at $19.99 for lunch and $29.99 for dinner, it is a steal for AYCE. They have five broths: original, miso, spicy miso, tonkotsu, and sukiyaki, ach balanced with sweet and salty flavors, creating a good selection of soup bases. Usually I like to get the tonkotsu, a rich, porky broth that reminds me of ramen, or the original, a clear dashi broth. I often crave Japanese broths and Shabuya satisfies my cravings.
For appetizers, chicken karaage is the only option. There are three types: spicy mayo, soy glazed, and volcano and we like to order one of each. Just make sure not to go overboard because they’re fried to order and arrive hot when you just about the time you’re starting on your hot pot.
You can order up to eight trays of meat from the menu, which is easy because there are eight meat choices. If you’re with a large group, get one of each on your first round to see what everyone likes. Meat is ordered with the server, while the noodles, veggies, seafood and dipping sauces are available at a self-serve bar. Bok choy, napa cabbage, udon noodles, crab, shrimp, cod and tofu are some of my go-to ingredients. And I always grab a lot of green onions for the broth and dipping sauce.
Open Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 638-4886, shabuyarestaurant.com, @_shabuya
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Chong Qing Hot Pot
Chong Qing Hot Pot is new to the second floor of Ward Centre. We didn’t think another place could top Shabuya, but the ambiance at Chong Qing is modern and chic while the flavors are exciting. Compared to the mild flavors of Shabuya’s Japanese broths, Chong Qing-style hot pot is spiced with chiles and Sichuan peppercorns. On a recent weeknight the restaurant is full, but we manage to get a table right away.
Lunch is $33.99 and dinner is $38.99 per person, almost $10 more than Shabuya, but worth the premium. There are seven soup bases including spicy marrow, numb marrow, tomato, herbal marrow and vegan mushroom. I prefer the rich, creamy and mildly spicy original marrow broth. We also try the tom yum broth, a savory, spicy, sour Thai-inspired soup. However, be careful because it gets spicier the longer it boils.
The menu here is easy to understand. Unlike Shabuya, you get a paper menu and check the boxes next to each ingredient you want. You can order as many trays of meat, vegetables, seafood and ingredients in each round. However, you are limited to ordering any item three times, despite being AYCE.
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Five meat options are available: thinly sliced lamb, beef belly, pork belly, chicken thigh, and beef short plate. Our favorites are the beef and pork while the lamb is a new choice we have not seen before. Other ingredients include wood ear mushrooms, taro root and beef tripe. I like the variety of sauces at the self-serve bar with items like house chile oil, sesame sauce and ponzu, among others.
If you love richly flavored broths, Chong Qing is a must-try. Bottomless fountain drinks, freshly cut fruit and other desserts are also included in the price to finish off your meal.
Open daily from 11 a.m to 3 p.m., and 5 to 10 p.m., 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 638-4886, @chongqinghotpot8818